Rough diamond a media myth
For all its cynicism, the media likes to treat politics as a morality play of heroes and villains - and the recent return of Shane Jones to the political fray has provided a golden opportunity for it to do so.
Meet Jonesy, the rough diamond larrikin with the superhuman ability to connect with working class Kiwi males!
Down the years, the media has fallen harder for its own concept of Jones than the voters have ever done. Once, there were even murmurs about him becoming Labour leader, and our first Maori Prime Minister.
In practice, Labour’s working class hero has rarely acted like a champion of the underclass. While in Parliament, he served as an attack dog for Sealords against the company’s environmental critics. In government, he was Labour’s ministerial go-between in a controversial immigration decision involving a wealthy Chinese migrant and party donor. (Hardly the ideal credentials for a future New Zealand First candidate.)
Despite the Greens being Labour’s only reliable ally in opposition, Jones spent almost as much time in publicly attacking them as he did in criticising the government, which eventually rewarded him with a cushy bureaucratic job.
Female voters have always shunned him.
Now Jones is back, standing for New Zealand First in the Whangarei electorate.
Undaunted, the media are once again touting the magical sympatico that Jones allegedly has with ordinary voters.
Yet there’s not much ballot box evidence of this pixie dust. Jones entered Parliament in 2005 on the Labour list. He stood (unsuccessfully) in Northland in 2008 but was rescued by his list position. In 2011, he lost to Pita Sharples in Tamaki Makaurau, and was rescued again by the party list.
In Labour’s leadership contest in 2013, Jones came in last of the three candidates on offer. Only months before the 2014 election, Jones resigned from Labour to take up National’s offer of a well-paid sinecure. (So much for blokey loyalty to his mates.)
In sum, there’s not a lot of evidence to support the theory of Shane Jones, blue-collar hero and irresistible vote magnet.
For that reason alone, New Zealand First might be wise to exercise caution about vaulting him into the party’s deputy leadership. For all his foibles, at least Ron Mark is a case of truth in packaging. These days, Jones looks more like a National Party stalking horse, and the NZF rank and file might be well advised to treat him as such.
Whangarei will certainly be a test of Jones’ ability on the stump. After fighting two elections in the seat, NZ First’s Pita Paraone came a distant fourth in 2014 with only 8 per cent of the electorate vote, compared to the 55 per cent share won by National’s Shane Reti.
Paraone did manage to increase NZ First’s share of the party vote in 2014 to 13.36 per cent, but still well adrift of National’s 50 per cent share.
At this point, Jones’ best chance of winning Whangarei would seem to be if National quietly advises its supporters to vote for him and not for Reti, the ostensible party candidate.
It has happened before. Remember Wellington Central in 1996, when National sunk its own candidate in order to advance the cause of Richard Prebble?